With the original Superman and Star Wars films, Indiana Jones, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, and The Towering Inferno all released before I was born, and Hook, Home Alone, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Harry Potter, Catch Me If You Can, and War of the Worlds all released after, I was born pretty squarely in the middle of a career that has now spanned close to six decades, that of film composer John Williams.
To be able to say that I am alive at the same time as one of the great maestros of modern music and able to enjoy his work while he’s still at his creative peak is an incredibly overwhelming thought. Williams’ ability to create music to perfectly match a medium whose existence in modern culture is still a micro-micro-fraction of the human timeline is pretty much unparalleled, and he has tapped into a wonderment that’s just as spellbinding as the magic of the movies.
If I may divulge, the whole reason I’m involved in the film industry to begin with could be traced down to this man, whose music I played at my bar mitzvah on a boom box instead of hiring a DJ to play Baha Men and LFO (absolutely no regrets). Needless to say, seeing John Williams perform live has long been a bucket list item of mine.
Credit Mr. Williams with being the reason movie scores and soundtracks are now just a thing, a part of the cultural lexicon, and why many of the movies I listed above amongst your favorites (and likely ones you’ve watched repeatedly). Hearing just the first few notes of each of the many pieces he performed at the Hollywood Bowl over the weekend with the always great LA Philharmonic orchestra alongside David Newman (of the famed Newman dynasty of musicians — look them up) was enough to cause me to start picturing each corresponding movie, no imagery necessary.
Many amongst the thousands of people in the audience held light sabers like Williams held his baton, anxiously awaiting the performance of segments from Star Wars, specifically those from the latest entry into the franchise, The Force Awakens. Indeed, Williams performed “Rey’s Theme,” but I would suggest that close to half of his entire performance was devoted to the beloved film series.
That’s totally okay and probably should have been expected; however, I was clamoring inside for something that cut a little deeper or for the program to be at least a little more varied. Williams did perform from Spielberg’s latest film, The BFG, but neither Indiana Jones nor the Jurassic Park themes made the setlist, and we were right near Universal Studios (“Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter, whose new attraction is now at the Studios, however, was one of the encores).
Either way, you really couldn’t go wrong listening to “The Imperial March” or “Princess Leia’s Theme,” which Williams said during a break was written before knowing Leia’s real love interest. These little breaks offered the most pleasant side of Williams as we’ve seen him in interviews, a humbled yet incredibly learned man who still has the power to touch even though he knows he’s given us so many gifts already.
David Newman was quite enamored to be sharing the same stage as John Williams, and though at times his segues into conducting music from many films not scored by Williams, such as Nino Rota’s The Godfather or Bernard Herrmann’s North By Northwest, were a bit awkward, he still contributed to the brisk Hollywood night being a successful one combining music and the movies.
John Williams is unquestionably one of, if not the, most important contributors to cinema and its magic. He’s now 84 years old, but just as game for even more contributions, and I have to say that witnessing him in his element on one of the most historic stages in the country is something you just have to do in this lifetime.
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